If anyone wanted a crash course on some of the more deranged or violent alleyways of the horror genre, previously undiscovered, you could do worse than watching the uncut version of Clive Barker’s original Hellraiser. Based on his own novella, 1986’s Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser had a decent, somewhat silly plot but was completely elevated by ghoulish visuals and a penchant for brutal violence. A strong throughline for psychosexual imagery accompanied the sadomasochism prevalent within the “cenobites”. It does manage to elicit a raw form of horror or was the primary cause for horrific dreams among kids of the 80s. If nothing else, Hellraiser should be acknowledged for Barker’s sadistic vision and his determination to not budge from the vision.

Thirty-five years and nine sequels later (none of which I have seen if I had to put up a caveat), Hellraiser finally returns to our screens in Hulu’s 2022 remake. It shares the same name as 1986 original and some of the same DNA, but in terms of direction and filmmaking, it is slightly different – this is where the proverbial other shoe drops. Director David Bruckner’s (The Night House) ability to craft simmering slow-burn horror is quite well-known. With the help of co-writers Ben Collins and Luke Pietrowski, Bruckner uses his ability of storytelling to re-establish the Hellraiser mythos while building up a character piece. An ambitious undertaking but feels at odds with the material Bruckner is working on.

The story follows Riley (Odessa A’zion), a young woman struggling with addiction and staying with her untrustworthy boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkley), much to the chagrin of her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn). The simmering tension between the brother and the sister reaches a fever pitch, due to which she runs away and comes into contact with an ancient puzzle box. Her accidentally pricking and drawing blood as the box shifts to its different configurations causes her brother to disappear and her to start searching for him.

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One of the bigger criticisms that should be applied to this new reboot of Hellraiser is the runtime. All of the previous entries in this franchise, including the original, had all been upwards of 90 minutes. The predecessors knew exactly what they were selling and let all the setups out of the way within the first ten or fifteen minutes before diving into the blood-soaked visceral lunacy that is the staple of the Hellraiser franchise. Not so much here.

Hellraiser (2022) Movie Review

To craft a character drama, Bruckner and his co-writers spend an inordinate amount of time setting up all these characters with their backstories and foibles. They all feel like taking in all the necessary tropes and adding them without making any effort to make the characters remotely interesting. The result is the addition of bloat in a movie where the kills and the designs of the cenobites are the big selling points. Thus even at 121 minutes, this new Hellraiser feels very much padded out, with a character drama that feels interesting on the surface but with the inevitable caveat that none of it truly matters.

However, Bruckner’s visual flair is on point. The scenes which act as harbingers for the Cenobites’ arrival – the formation of the tunnels and all of the moments being depicted slightly off-focus as the victim of the cenobites try to escape to no avail – manage to induce a healthy amount of creepiness, offsetting the visceral horror you would expect to see ample amounts of. The designs of the cenobites, however, are suitably unnerving, if not outright scary at times. Jamie Clayton, as the female version of “Pinhead”, is fine, with her modulated voice working in tandem with her creepy appearance. It’s after the first hour that the kills finally begin to become gruesome, and the chains, the hooks, and the barbed wire fences wrap around the bodies of the cenobites’ victims until the body is pulled apart.

It is in these moments that you are reminded of the movie you are watching. Those violent delights having violent ends elicit a dopamine high among horror fans, but it also becomes a counterpoint to all these characters the movie spent enough time building up. It then becomes suitably hard for us to care about any of these characters beyond their being part of this absolute lunacy. The severe lack of any eroticism results in the movie feeling weirdly sexless; it is a sharp counterpoint to the original film, which was almost dripping with bloody libidinousness.

The one time the movie hearkens back to the sadistic nature of Barker’s original vision is the reveal of Mr. Voight (Goran Visnjic) in the third act and the torture device the Cenobites have embedded him with. Suffice it to say that’s creepy and hard to look at, but it is also impossible to look away from in its ridiculousness. The push-and-pull and the hold the movie has with the audience during those moments should have been sustained throughout its runtime. Alas! to make something resembling “elevated horror”! Hellraiser stumbles and misses the mark on its bloody, messy, erotic core, and that’s a crying shame.

Read More: Hellraiser [2022] Movie Ending, Explained – These Hellish Sights Come At A Dear Price


Where to watch Hellraiser

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